A Saturday Full of Soccer Games
Last weekend, I had a big Saturday that I'd been looking forward to for months.
And I was either going to be really happy or really sad after the day ended. But I was definitely going to be tired.
At 8:35 in the morning, my family suited up for my daughter's first soccer game of the season. She played last season on the Under-4 team, but the games were basically scrimmages at the end of their practices.
This year is different. This was a real game against another team.
But this year she also had a new coach: ME.
The games are 4v4 with no goalkeepers and several of my players have never played before. Even the ones that have are subject to frequent meltdowns and almost all of them are listening-challenged at some point (or at many).
That doesn't stop me from staying up late drawing up drills, setting my lineups several nights before the game, and making them run sprints after practice.
I take my job seriously.
But when I got out to the field that Saturday, I had no idea if the hard work would pay off or not.
Well, it did.
We won 13-1 and almost every player on our team scored.
We even celebrated for the other team when they got their goal. It was earned.
It was a great start to a long day. I texted my mom a picture with the team of kids standing above me, lying on the ground, while they all mock-tickled me. She has always been a "sports mom" so she gets overjoyed by how much BB loves to play.
She was just disappointed she couldn't be there and cheer from the sidelines.
After the kids' game, I had a few hours of downtime with the family but looming over me (quite literally) was a storm that might cancel my game that night.
A couple of months ago some alumni from my high school reached out to coordinate an alumni soccer tournament, featuring four schools from eastern NC.
I play every week with my men's league, and I was actually in town for once, so I was definitely down to play. Many others showed interest, but not commitment.
But a group of us were dedicated to fielding an 11-man team.
We'd created and ordered special jerseys and had been hyping up this day in our group text for weeks. But that day called for a 90% chance of thunderstorms.
In the morning, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so I held out hope. And even waiting at the house to leave (I had a 90-minute drive to Tarboro), it still looked clear outside. But all weather channels were claiming this storm was coming.
My deadline of a 2:00 pm departure passed. Then 2:15. 2:30. By 2:45 we got the text that the games were on and I hit the road. Sixty minutes into the trip, the bottom dropped out of the sky.
I pulled up to the fields still in the midst of a downpour. But people were getting out of their vehicles and huddling under tents, so I did the same. Seemed like they were just as crazy as me, so I committed myself to a wet night.
What I lost, though, was the initial commitment from my mom.
Tarboro is just 45 minutes from my hometown of Washington, so she planned to come watch me play as she used to when I was a kid. The tournament was supposed to be somewhat of an event—with spectators, a DJ, and even a food truck—but other than the insane group of us that were playing there was only a handful of spectators. Maybe two handfuls.
We both decided it probably wasn't best for her and honestly, I still thought we might get canceled due to thunder or lightning in the next few minutes.
The rain stayed, but the thunder and lightning never appeared.
Our team was comprised of alumni of all ages. Some had even graduated as recently as last year. I quickly found out that I was the second-oldest on the team at 40 years old. And that kid that graduated last year had fewer years on this earth than I had since graduating in 2000.
But I still had the conditioning, thanks to my weekly Over-30 games.
The first game started and it was pretty easy to see that we were the better team. We moved the ball around nicely. We had a few shots on goal. It was coming.
We first found the back of the net on a corner kick that rose high above and across several players in front of the goal, including the goalkeeper. I was in the back near the far post and lept up, over the guy guarding me, and connected with it at the peak of my jump, sending it just as high above and across those players again, landing in the opposite side of the net.
It was a great way to start. I sprinted back to the midfield, high-fiving all the teammates I passed along the way and basking in the statement this old man had inadvertently made.
I had another header late in the game that the keeper just tipped over the crossbar, but earned even more respect from the younger guys for my jumping ability and tenacity.
We ended up winning that game 5-1 which put us in the final happening later that night. But that meant that we had to hide under trees for almost two hours while our socks remained fully saturated in our boots.
It felt like I was standing in an inch of water.
I texted my mom a pic and told her the outcome.
She was so distraught that she missed it.
"Does this mean y'all are still playing at 7:30?" she asked.
"Yep." I responded as I watched Tarboro High put a hurting on their opponent. It was clear who our matchup would be that night.
One hour later, we were in the middle of the field being introduced by the DJ as the two teams that would compete for the trophy.
I hadn't heard from my mom again so I figured she got busy or just wanted to leave me alone so I could focus on the game.
The game started and it was clear that I wasn't, in fact, focused. Or more realistically, I was feeling tired from the difference between playing a game with 11 folks on either side, versus the 8v8 small-field games we play in my Over-30 league.
It was also clear we wouldn't run away with this one like we did the first game.
After 10 minutes or so, the one substitute player we had called me off the field. I was confused. Actually, I was pissed.
But the de facto captain (and our official representative of the event) had seen that I wasn't getting back on defense and suggested the player come in for me.
I sat stewing on the sidelines, but still cheering for my team. I wasn't sure how I would get back in, but I knew I wanted to. I had to. So when that same player suggested I go in for our other wide midfielder (a position that requires constant running), I did exactly that.
Within two minutes, I was pushing up on attack (part of what hurts my ability to get back on defense, sometimes) with three or four other guys. Our forward slipped the ball across the face of the goal, being just slightly just touched by another midfielder, but not enough to change its direction.
The ball continued to roll past the goal and towards the goal line, where it would become out of bounds and give possession back to Tarboro.
Inches from the line, I saw that I still had an angle on it if I could get to it.
Off balance and almost at the end line, I cut it back sharp with my right foot and it rolled in the open net as I ran out of bounds.
I turned around quickly to pump my team up, high-fiving whoever was in front of me. Just as I did, I heard a very familiar scream among all the others, that came from behind the fence nearest the goal.
It sounded just like a scream I used to hear back in the late 90s when I previously scored goals for the Pam Pack of Washington.
When halftime hit, I checked my phone to see if my hunch was accurate.
A text from my mom read: "I see you!!!"
"Was that you??? I heard you scream when I scored!" I repsonsed
Just then, I saw her walking down the gravel walkway to our team's short bench.
I introduced her to the rest of the team—some of which she remembered and that remembered her from her substitute teaching days. Then we suited up to go back out there and finish what we started.
There was a variety of reasons we did not achieve that.
We could blame it on the referee missing calls or making bad calls like the red card he gave our goalie. We could blame it on the fact that Tarboro High took the best players from the two losing teams and added them to their roster even though they weren't alumni. We could even blame it on the fact that they snuck a current 17-year-old Tarboro High player on their team, too.
But the reality is that I, nor anyone else on my team, could find the back of the net again despite several opportunities to do so.
I had one more chance (again from a corner kick) to score as I lept up over my defender and connected with my head. But both of my calves locked up just as I jumped and I just couldn't get above the ball to strike it downward, so it was an easy save for the keeper.
We lost 2-1. But we did it with pride and represented Washington well.
I was discouraged but proud of my team. And though I usually beat myself up after not scoring when there was an opportunity, I felt none of that. I was proud of my contribution. I was proud that I had a teenager tell me that "Dude... you have like a 40-inch vertical!" as we set up for a corner kick earlier.
But most of all, I was proud that I could do it one more time for my mother to see.
Over 20 years later, I still work to earn those screams from the sidelines.
Thank you, Pam Pack, for the opportunity to do it again.